Digital devices blamed for creating a generation of 'glow kid' addicts

KAROLINE TUCKEY
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2017
WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

According to psychologist Dr Kirsty Ross devices should never be a substitute for quality time with parents or teachers.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF
Feilding mum-of-four Hilary Humphrey said parents had to stay on their toes to monitor digital device use. The Humphrey children, from left; Eliana, 5, Taine, 11 and Ciara, 12.

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Children who spend too much time on their digital devices are at risk of developing neurological disorders, a high school is warning parents. 

While many schools embrace learning through laptops and tablets, Palmerston North Boys' High School staff penned a letter to parents citing warnings from American psychologist Nicholas Kardaras.

"Exposure to technology is essential for our young men," the school said in the letter. 

"However, it is essential the manner in which they are exposed to this technology is controlled and monitored so that the benefits are not diminished by the proven negatives." 

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"There is an increasing amount of clinical research correlating screen time with disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, depression and increased anxiety."

Kardaras coined the phrase "glow kids" to describe the generation of children and teens growing up immersed in digital technology, and lit by a screen. 

Computer games and websites are designed to be appealing and addictive. His findings, based on clinical evidence, shows this addiction could be as harmful to the developing brain as cocaine addiction, but is more difficult to cure. 

Clinical child psychologist Dr Kirsty Ross said she always asks about children's screen time and what they use digital devices for, as misuse can aggravate other issues. 

"What we are definitely seeing is young people who find it very difficult to leave their devices alone, and depending on the age of the young person it has a range of different affects.

"There's research on the impact on the brain in terms of the parts of the brain activated ... dopamine means it's a pleasurable activity, and it's hard to turn off voluntarily. It needs monitoring, it needs limits, because kids aren't going to self impose those." 

Devices should never be a substitute for quality time with parents or teachers, she said. For example "talking to them, reading a book to them and talking about the material – rather than the device reading to the children." 

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"We need the personal interaction. Devices introduced at a young age and used extensively can impact brain connections and have an extreme impact." 

Feilding mum of four Hilary Humphrey said parents had to stay on their toes to monitor digital device use. 

Her children are aged 13, 11, 5 and 3, and as a rough rule of thumb are allowed no more than two hours using all digital devices at home, including the television.

Without supervision at least one of her children would choose to spend all day using technology, and there can be strong resistance to switching devices off.  

"We want to support their engagement and competency with technology, but also to make sure they are doing all the other child things like going down to the pool with their friends, learning how to cook in the kitchen ..."

Auckland digital teaching specialist Damon Kahi is less worried about the length of time spent on devices, compared to the education and entertainment balance, in relation to addiction.

At the Mind Lab at Unitec he trains teachers to integrate technology into their practice, and said his experience was that teachers and even very young children were more inclined to see digital devices as tools for research and creating as part of a wider process, rather than entertainment. 

"If your brain's 100 per cent active you don't get addicted." 

Every generation has revolutionary new devices that are matched with a knee-jerk reaction, he said. 

"We have to face reality, in many houses there's two or three computers and kids are immersed in that from an early age."

- Sunday Star Times

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